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Illusions of an Alternative...
Bard's film tight-rope walks the authenticity of Vigoesque documented views with the ideological transcendental identification effects of an interrogative process. In that regard, Destroy Yourself might remind some of Wajda's Man of Marble/Man of Iron set, where personal history and collective reflection of a historical moment become intertwined. This intertwining is exposed and foregrounded through the alternation of scenes in sepia tones and black/white while drawn-out blank frames rupture the possibility of integrating the considerations of personal and collective into a clear unity. Perhaps there is a Brechtian challenge behind the film? The spectator must remedy the disparate views into a coherent whole in order to appreciate the immediacy of the individual to the collective historical moment. The kinesthetic flicker sequence is an overt cue to that effect... foregrounding the rupture of auditory and visual with the physical compulsion to listen but also close one's eyes. It serves as an alarm to rouse the spectator into opening one's eyes and to see what is being said. To witness action is to participate in the event. In some ways, Godard's La Chinoise operates on similar principles. Godard plays on the congruence of witness-participant relationships as opposed to a more threatening dialectic rupture Bard is in effect warning against in that relationship. The film hails the unbound quality of freedom and that acts of freedom naturally interpellate all of humanity as the human condition is to be free and to imagine freedom (like the girl's questioning of the freedom of the wall/behind the wall). The film has a kind of staggered procession, unlike Zilnik's Early Works which is continuously infused with a kinetic bond between character and milieu. The female protagonist (de Bendern) claims fear directly after stating that a revolution must be complete. The staggered pace may be seen to reflect the immense anxiety surrounding the Student Demonstration of 1968. The labored pace may authentically reflect the emotional suspension of the moment, however, it compromises the kind of energy and fervor needed to activate fence-sitters and the politically apathetic. Destroy Yourself seems more like the dear-diary confession of a frustrated activist sooner than a documentary-type manifesto of an active revolutionary. The film suffers from being a text which is about nothing in particular and everything in general... and thus has its emotional core in the collective memories of its cast, crew and director sooner than in that of those who lived through the historical moment or study it afterwards. I would find it arrogant to identify with a film that clearly has the precept of invitation but not the will to provide a return address for the RSVP. I still feel that the truest expression of emotion and invitation toward sincere sharing of the historical moment can be found in Med Hondo's Soleil O. Destroy Yourself may lack in revolutionary praxis but remains a text rife with demonstrations of dialectics through the medium. The theories of Brecht, Lacan, Eisenstein, Althusser, Marx and the Frankfurt School could all be evoked to explain the dynamics at play within this film. Although the film is not entertaining, it is intellectually-engaged.
Holy Motors (2012)
Don't read into it too much...
Leos Carax is known as one of the foremost directors in the tendency known as the Cinema du Look emerging out of France in the 1980s. One of the primary characteristics of this 'movement' was superficiality. As such, I would like to suggest the following reading for Holy Motors: the segments or 'vignettes' should be interpreted as defying deeper allegorical readings which imply some kind of paradoxical open hermeneutic interpellation of the spectator. A simpler approach to understanding the meaning and signification of the film should prevail - especially when dealing with the filmmakers of the Cinema du Look. The first five segments represent a juxtaposition of perspectives - subject/object and self/other. These vignettes also represent the five senses of human corporeal perception. The first vignette of the old woman beggar juxtaposes the sense of touch for the viewer (Metzian primary identification) with the sense of hearing for the subject-object (in this case, protagonist)(Metzian secondary identification). For the spectator, the lack of human contact as the beggar character persists in a phony campaign for alms provokes a tactile sense... a hug or helping hand. For the protagonist, the vignette exemplifies the sense of hearing as the stooped over, squint-eyed figure must focus only on the auditory to gauge a purpose in the act itself. This is underscored by the old woman who passes by in a semi-catatonic state... urging much recognition from the spectator but nothing from the subject-object. The second vignette juxtaposes the sense of taste for the viewer with the sense of smell for the protagonist. The motion sensors are a red herring in that they simply construct a minimalist mise-en-scene bereft of constant distractions. This 'purity' of representation has the effect of portraying a sense almost always cliché in cinema. Instead of a cheese factory or sounds of flatulence, the motion-sensored minimalist mise-en-scene allows the subject-object to be driven and directed by an animalistic energy akin to the olfactory sense of most successful predators. For the viewer, the sexual ambiguity of the exchange provokes a whetting, so to speak - an appetite as it were. The third vignette presents the madman who represents a sense of smell for the viewer through his appearance and actions while driven himself by taste. He consumes flowers, fabric, paper and human flesh. For the viewer, the flowers retain their signification with the olfactory sense. The fourth sequence presents a more pedestrian exploration of the human condition (the primary thematic of the film)... for the viewer, the radio music and heavy dialogue provoke the sense of hearing while juxtaposed with the sense of sight for the protagonist (demands for the daughter to look at him, the final shot of the sequence is a gaze through the side mirror of the car). The fifth sequence closes the sensual juxtaposition as the chinatown murder provoke a sense of sight for the viewer who must conform to an understanding of uncanny doppelgangers while the reciprocal stabbings and prompt for such actions in the limo accent the tactility that will define the sequence from the perspective of the protagonist. Then entr'acte... and it should be taken as matter-of-fact. At this point one should recall Bazin's assertions that the brain is destroyed prior to the heart. The second 'half' of the film, or second act operate on a new superficial level of the existential. The sex drive is dealt with first - gun as phallic signifier, overt dialogue directing bullets to "the crotch" - generally a carnal act to be sure. The next sequence predictably deals with death and old age - a signifier for the loss of mental faculties or the frailty of the brain organ more specifically. As foreseeable, the final sequence in the second act addresses the heart - a minor romantic subplot, heterosexual and relatively uncomplicated in its explication. What of the monkeys? Well, it seems that the third act is largely accented through its brevity. The final act delves into a deeper level of existential consideration. The apes juxtapose human consciousness and the Cartesian cogito with the limo dialogue and its representation of the Other. I have watched the film once, and not to consider myself in the ilk of Pauline Kael, simply believe that this film doesn't require a second watch for proper analysis. It is superficial in its meaning - signifiers are only complex in their juxtaposition. Don't read into this film too much! Perhaps, my analysis suffers from what Bazin acknowledged in Godard (that he interprets as he sees fit)... oh well, at least I'm in great company then. Holy Motors is a straightforward parsing of the human condition... there is little to no morality infused into the introspective approach and the discourse seems very inspired by Foucauldian architecture. The self-reflexivity is so superficial as to become misguiding... even sinister. That is the strength and essence of Carax's film... it misleads and tricks the naive spectator.
Le caporal épinglé (1962)
Le Caporal opens with a montage of WWII documentary footage. "Honor and glory to the survivors" provides a nice interplay between themes in Grande Illusion and more personal philosophies regarding the condition of the human race (Renoir's 'humanism'). The drama moves at a relatively slow pace and the performances are full of affect. More documentary footage has a voice-over narration in French but from the perspective of the Nazis. There is an element of self-reflexivity to the film not just through the use of documentary footage and a more psychologically-based stylistic system but also infused into the themes of coercion and resistance. Le Caporal is more concerned with individualism than Grande Illusion which focused on group dynamics. This is underscored by the obsessive compulsive worry that one character shows for the safety of his cows, regardless of what is happening in the moment. The story does not track the multiple characters but instead folds their offscreen progress in with the corporal at regular intervals. He becomes a transient in their lives (hence elusive). There is a disconnect in this regard and a repetition to the structure of the narrative that underscores this disconnect. The graceful allusions in Regle with Schumacher are replaced by purely cynical portrayals of Germans (the drunken warmonger states "I'm probably a better German than you all"). Scorsese commented that Le Caporal Epingle is "in a different emotional key than La Grande Illusion".
Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (1959)
Philosophy in the Clouds
An unusual intro sequence involves layering the diegetic world through an odd specularity utilizing newsreel interviews and binding characters to different milieux. There are a plethora of tongue-in-cheek juxtapositions of science and nature which reminds one of Makavejev's oeuvre (especially in the link being sexuality). Rare Renoirian soft focus accompanies one-shot closeups while the self-reflexivity leads to a near mocking of the famous Renoir stylistic system. Depth of field is arranged where characters continuously 'pop up' in the different planes. Groups are framed in long shots. Dejeuner sur L'Herbe is almost bizarre in its referencing to the French New Wave and the Tradition of Quality. FNW is treated as a horizon running perpendicular to the tight-rope Renoir traverses toward it while the ToQ is set up as a gorge below which has a perverted inversion in its reflection as it to position itself in the clouds like Gods. Renoir seems to make a journey of this film - a personal journey toward his favored colleagues but with the knowledge that his alignment is bound to his past. "Every film is a confession" is a Vuillermoz quote well addressed in this film. The pan flautist is a famous Renoir motif and appropriately placed in Dejeuner where Renoir as auteur becomes a force of nature - he becomes the milieu (and perhaps always was). The picnickers seem indifferent to the Pan character's supernatural powers revealing a cynicism that has popped up many times with Renoir. "In every man a satyr sleeps" is no revelation, but a warning about the internal and external truths which become convoluted and disparate through the individual's attempts to manage them. It has been noted that Dejeuner lacks in subtlety. I believe that it was the intention as the film text is simply overdetermined in its self-reflexivity that the specular nature of the film cannot be ignored. The Damascus reference troubles me, while the Hitler-orator allusions and scooter ride seem all too obvious as components of an autobiography. This film is important for understanding Renoir as an auteur.
Cordelier and Regle
There is a quasi-prologue to introduce Cordelier, which goes a long way to connecting this TV-based production with other self-reflexive films Renoir made late in his career. Space is not explored or constructed in the same was as films like M. Lange or Regle while a lack of mobile framing maintains psychological identification with the characters. There is deep space, but not deep staging as the camera frames long corridors and archways but not groups of characters within the settings. There are situations where groups of townspeople move around together but it is a group held together tenuously and usually motivated by reactions to an event. The women in the building knew of Opale but found no reason to report his odd behavior underscoring that the milieu is very different from that of Lange, Illusion, Fonds or Regle. Some of the performances suffer from affectation which tends to diminish the impact of the Barrault roles. Dr. Cordelier has a moment while reading the newspaper where the audience is privy to an internal monologue - heightening the psychological dimensions of the narrative. There is some splattering of the famous Renoir stylistics when the doctor's party is thrown and later when the collective of workers attempt to stop Opale. Yet, soon after a flashback sequence puts things right back into the realm of the psychological (theatrical) as opposed to the social (realist). The themes of sexual perversion are somewhat muted (or perhaps they require a more 'European eye' to appreciate). The freedom that Cordelier experiences through subscribing to chaos has interesting political implications. In some manner, I feel that Cordelier is one of Renoir's more clearly political films. The narrative frame returns Renoir to the screen and the storyworld diegetic. The compulsion of the nature of humanity (quest of soul will be punished but will be freedom) echoes the true significance of a film like Regle - these films are connected philosophically, if not also thematically. Cordelier is well worth watching for the dynamic combination of Renoir and Barrault using the multiple camera shooting system. There is an even flow to the storytelling that renders the text engaging.
La règle du jeu (1939)
Take your Kracauerian paralysis and stick it in your ear
Regle exemplifies one of Renoir's stylistic systems - the famous one. For Braudy, it is the system concerned with realism (as opposed to theater). I tend to agree with the distinction, but also with some criticism against the thesis which objects to the formulation being either reductive or simply a misnomer. Closeups are two-shots, mobile framing and the long take constructs space unobtrusively, obstructions in the mise-en-scene support unobtrusive camera positioning, staging/blocking is uneven creating a natural arrangement, doorways and arches provide hints at offscreen space, little-to-no reframing or shot-reverse-shot prevents psychological identification and multiple characters get equal treatment through direction and the scenario on the whole. There are some interesting production notes for Regle, including that Renoir was about the last choice to play Octave (others like Michel Simon were unable to play the role) yet scenes like the car crash are auto-biographical for Renoir (the death of Pierre Champagne). Many apply a Kracauerian thesis to the significance of Regle and are wrong to do so. The film is less concerned with class politics and the "paralysis" of bourgeoisie to appreciate the threat of fascism as it is concerned with events on a micro level that are beyond the influence of the players connected to them. "Everyone has their reasons" is a concession and confession for Renoir who understands that people do what they can and what they must as they pass through life but that these disparate social actions cannot always be consolidated into an orderly and fair 'oneness'. This is the essence of comedy and tragedy for Renoir. "Everyone has their reasons" connects with Renoir's personal philosophy of the cork in the stream. Later (in Elena and her Men) the expression is retold as "everyone has their plans" underscoring that Renoir is flexible about his application of philosophy to human nature (hence equal development of two stylistic systems across his oeuvre). For Renoir, humans are compulsive creatures who wear masks to manage internal and external truths. The working class Schumacher is the most inept at managing his mask and also acts in the most reprehensible manner. His German surname is likely intentional as a comment on the rise of Nazi fascism, however, Renoir spares no social class in his critique of mismanagement of the self onto the social. The chaos that ensues is both comical and tragic. As Renoir asserted, the horizontal and vertical boundaries are illusory and will become obsolete as people realize that their internal truths are unique and external truths are false. The 'rules of the game' are that whoever you are, the management of a masked external self is imperative and at the same time false thus leading to compulsive behavior that cannot be calculated and whose results cannot be predicted. This is the gift and curse of life. Fortunately, we have more to be conscious of because of Renoir sharing this wisdom with all of us.
Elena et les hommes (1956)
Everyone has Their Plans...
Renoir introduces Elena as a "fantasy musical". The opening scene is in an artist's studio while a piano is practiced on. There is a superior use of depth of field but Bergman is the focal point (Renoir was quite smitten with her as evidenced by their years of personal communication). There are shades of Nana however that may have marred positive response to the film upon release. Bergman's character is not imbued with a clear motivation that brings everything around her into focus. It is simply her external self that is to be that which is focused upon. Well, that wasn't good enough in 1926 and nothing much had changed thirty years later. Is Bergman's Elena a symbol or a mere good luck charm? Hard to tell at first viewing. Again multiple cuts replace the long take and tableau construction of mise-en-scene replaces mobile framing. Elena is certainly not in the realm of 'realism' attributed to Regle. Point in case is when an old military jacket is commented as being tattered yet is clearly immaculate and freshly dry-cleaned at the other end of the studio minutes before. The immaculate mise-en-scene of the color "trilogy" is a psychologically-based construction and operates as a reflective process for the spectator to find pleasure in an unblemished vision. In effect, Renoir has shifted from letting a story tell itself through his direction to directing how the story is projected. "Everyone has their plans" replaces the old Renoir credo of "everyone has their reasons" and the distinction fits nicely with my own thesis about Renoir's two stylistic systems. In Carrefour, the camera investigates through the lattice work of a door window creating a layered space whereas in Elena an idle courter bangs in futility at a door with similar lattice but no great depth of field. For Faulkner, it is a conflict of private and public spheres at play where the woman's power is effected through performance. It seems unlikely that this theory plays out cleanly given Renoir's consistency with empowering female characters through a variety of means. The film has more significance and less entertainment value the more you know and understand of Renoir's oeuvre.
French Cancan (1955)
Oh the Gaminerie!
French Cancan is introduced as a "musical comedy" and lives up to the billing in some ways. That is to say that dance gets as much limelight as music, in fact given the final sequence it is dance which would best describe the film. Strange that Renoir wouldn't mark it out as such given his comments about the universality of dance after the production of The River and given the title of the film itself. The depth of field is again appropriated to layer the staging much like in theater. Mobile framing emulates the human spectator to events sooner than constructing space unobtrusively. The pan across the mob fight unravels before the viewer like a comic strip or emaki scroll. There is specular themes like in Golden Coach where Gabin's character asserts "artists are slaves". The film remains lighthearted and humorous and it is no surprise that of his most recent films, Cancan did the best at the box office (Arnoul is delicious in her role). Mise-en-scene is designed with expectations of a painterly aesthetic. A color is lavish to the point of tackiness. Gabin's character later states "we are at the service of the public" and implies that this is all that matters. Sarris comments that Gabin's character as impresario serves as an alter ego for Renoir and reminds us that it would be an "oversimplification to describe him as a humanist." I cannot disagree with Mr. Sarris on those points but as we all know, Renoir's oeuvre plunges even deeper into reflection, representation and meaning.
Le carrosse d'or (1952)
Where Gold Commands, Laughter Vanishes
Renoir brought a new authorial voice to his work with The Diary of a Chambermaid which carried over into the "trilogy" of Carosse D'Or, French CanCan and Elena. The trilogy therefore is a bit of a misnomer despite Diary admittedly being more transitional than the three color productions which soon followed. Renoir introduces Carosse as a "fantasy" in the "spanish style" and it was at this time in his life where he was ready to dedicate himself to theater. The opening shot is a fantastic reflective juxtaposition of the theater stage and the cinema screen. Deep staging is important to the mise-en-scene, but there is little long take mobile framing. One-shot closeups, pov and shot-reverse-shot create a sense of psychological identification. The polyvocal system is less logical than Grande Illusion and more at the service of Magnani (much in the same way that Goddard was the focal point of Diary). A montage of shots connected through dissolves as well as the static camera solidify a sense of tableau fitting appropriately with the specularity of the commedia dell'arte theme. The viceroy is Camilla's muse sooner than the typical inverse. He provides a sensitivity that reminds of Le Baron in Bas Fonds... and his fascinations are just as patronizing and unsettling. There is a voyeuristic theme within the specular structure which raises questions about the great depth of field relating to privilege as opposed to realism. Renoir would take a new look at this at the end of Cancan when Gabin rehearses the performance in his mind from backstage. The Golden Coach is very much a film these for Renoir as he plays out the most important elements of his personal philosophy - that of internal and external truths and the masks that people wear to manage their relationship and mode of expression. For a fun, light film there is a lot of powerful expression in Carosse D'Or.
Le crime de Monsieur Lange (1936)
Quel Drole de Monde...
The Jacques Prevert-Jean Renoir teaming provides for an exciting tale of murder, mens rea, judgment and justice. The narrative frame introduces the story through straightforward exposition. Great depth of field and uneven staging/blocking of characters constructs a space unobtrusively in order to make room for the free interchange of political positions of everyday people. It is difficult to deny that M. Lange isn't a call for French citizens to become politicized, but one cannot overlook the contribution of Prevert to that end. Mobile framing is employed once Florelle's character introduces the past events that led her and M. Lange into the provincial regions. The mobile framing operates to connect lives that might otherwise require the conjuring of contrived connections by the audience. The fact is that these people live and work together - that is the essence of their connection, and for Prevert (and Renoir) such a connection is enough to create a demand for respect, dignity and autonomy. Batala throws a wrench in all that good stuff and provides the catalyst for politicization. Is murder condoned in this film or is it representative of the sacrifice that will be made to take up a firm political position? (a massive issue at the time of the Popular Front) M. Lange is all about context but in the most self-reflexive manner. Even the Arizona Jim storyline has a direct conversation operating within the French film industry at the time. M. Lange isn't anachronistic but for a contemporary audience, the concept of group responsibility has distorted and perverted into an amorphous hideous blob cranking up the volume of the latest tech trinket to drown out the screams of a Kitty Genovese in the alley below. This makes M. Lange a refreshing take on politics but a depressing one, given the contemporary spectator has the foreknowledge that WWII happened and that international corporate conglomeration (Batala's wet dream) has become so dominant that an Occupy Movement on Wall Street looks more like a corporate-sponsored Hoedown-cum-Pow-Wow... and just wait for the time management game version to be released on iPhone in the next three months. If M. Lange were real life in 2013 we can be sure that Batala "getting his" would mean getting the highest amount of profit participation and controlling the creative accounting end of things when the box office closes on the film's run. It is beautiful to see a world fighting for what is right. Prevert was unabashed in that regard. Renoir was fighting for something else - both more personal and universal. In a true Renoir film, Batala would have been a more complex character... likely something between King Louis in La Marseillaise and Dede in La Chienee. That is to say, his return would be announced and his escape would be ensured at the expense of some poor bugger's own life... in a kind of reprehensible accident. What does the 360 shot mean to me? I believe that it represents a political statement about the deferral of responsibility. The Lange and Batala roles are a clever reversal of the real issue... where do you stand against the threat of fascism that will soon begin stomping faces (which it did in abundance).
The River (1951)
Come along for a Ride...
The River is all about the construction of space and how people find their way through life. Filmed in India and in color, the spectator is immediately invited to the exotic. The title cards are imprinted into the diegetic world through scrolling long take, fusing the authorial voice with the fiction. There is a theme of auteurship in the story of The River that overtakes the superficial story of first love. The idea of first love is objective but the authorship is far from that. The portrayal of India is ethnographic but also biographical. The great depth of field serves a sense of pseudo-documentary. Identification is confounded somewhat through a lack of closeups. When there is a closeup, it is a two-shot. The adaptation beguiles an otherwise obvious example of the development of Renoir's famous stylistic system. Candid honesty is at the fore rendering the realism of group dynamics similar to Regle or M. Lange. However, the adaptation renders the literary directly to painterly while the authorship in voice-over narration retains a pure psychological focus on Harriet. Captain John is the object, that which provokes jealousy never has its own position elucidated. The voice-over narration gets intriguing as Harriet's character knows of events she was not present for. Harriet's diegetic character then narrates a story whose events are shown on-screen rendering multiple diegeses. When we believe we have returned to the first layer of diegetic, unpredictable events beg the question of whether we have slipped into a deeper secret layer and what connection they might all have to each other. The power of the authorship of Renoir and Godden combined subvert a political or even ethnographic study of the story. We are forced to submit to the coming-of-age-love-story alone. These self-reflexive characteristics have a strong connection to Renoir's Woman on the Beach. Again, many characters are underdeveloped highlighting the power of the authorial voice as a non-Transcendental 'Other'. According to Renoir, the universal element of the film was dance, however, I found its tableau framing to be inert in an unattractive way. Perhaps I am too much of a control freak to submit fully to a powerful authorial voice and as such The River is a film best left to those who love being taken along for a ride as opposed to those who must play at being a backseat driver. Of course, this statement has a deep irony in Renoir's own philosophy of the cork in the river.
The Woman on the Beach (1947)
Dedee and Pierre-Auguste sitting in a tree...
Foggy describes it best. The Woman on the Beach had some hitches during production and a great supporter of Renoir's in the RKO studio (Korner) passed away before the film was completed. Renoir commented later that he might have stayed at RKO until the end of his career had Korner lived. The film implements some avant-garde techniques... superimpositions, slow-motion and dissolves which directly connect to character psychology (dream logic, in fact). There is a shot-reverse-shot system at work and closeups are one-shots. Noir lighting and foggy mise-en-scene create a sense of loss. This plays well with the theme of blindness. There are some confusing allusions to alcoholism and hysteria (no explanations gleaned in my research). The film centers on a single protagonist and investigates his psychology. There is shallow depth of field, no long takes or mobile framing. Doors close and space is cut off. One gets the sense that the direction is self-reflexive and may have something to say about Renoir's relationship with his own family. "Painting has nothing to do with the brain. It's the eye. Painting is like a woman, she either thrills you or she doesn't" begs many questions about Dedee and Pierre-Auguste playing out a reverse Oedipal relationship through this story. Although the story is not one of Renoir's, it was a story which had occupied his thoughts for a long time prior to finding an outlet through its production as a film. There is a sense of distance, loss, separation, darkness and anger that renders The Woman on the Beach an unpleasurable experience. But a valuable one and a film worth watching for its powerfully suppressed authorial voice.
The Southerner (1945)
I reckon Almighty dun blessed us...
Based on all the historical evidence, Renoir was granted independence in the making of The Southerner and it shows in his direction and control of stylistics. The pastoral setting is explored with great depth of field, while characters are staged in depth through windows like in many of Renoir's French films (M. Lange, La Chienne). The story is the epitome of apropos - "if you're working for a big outfit, maybe you don't get rich but you still get your pay even if the crops is bad. But the little guy who is growing his own, if his crops is ruined, he's got nothing left". This warning given to Sam Tucker sets up the drama of the story while also commenting on the methods of producing the film itself. The mobile framing and long take pans accompanied by voice-over dialogue would be quite unconventional for a Hollywood audience and are much more in tune with the kind of documented eye of social cinema which Vigo promoted. As much as the stylistics are European and Renoirian in origin, the story is a corny slice of Americana - to live on the land you own, catching trophy catfish, grandma watching over things from her rocking chair. It speaks to America... even ironically lies to America. "Land needs rest like a man. That's why the Lord invented Sunday" is of course ridiculous given that Sunday was invented by the citizens of the French Republic. Renoir makes the most of the realism that can be achieved through exterior shooting on location and not on the studio sets. The house that is used literally sits on a crooked foundation creating impact on the viewer where skewed perspectives juxtapose with prospects of hopes and dreams. There is no class conflict in this film... the conflict plays out within the working class. Renoir falls back on some decoupage classique but frames a great fight sequence through it. The most unRenoir element of the film is the portrayal of the wife who supports 100% her husband and at no point creates even the slightest amount of stress of strife for him... she is in effect a cardboard cutout "woman folk". For all the massacring of Renoir's films in the cutting rooms, The Southerner could do with the removal of anachronistic misogynist traditional values in some of his Hollywood films. Renoir always believed in egalitarianism for women especially, so one can see that as much as The Southerner is considered "independent", Renoir was still bound by the puritanical values of the society to which his film would be distributed.
The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946)
A Woman Scorned...
The Diary of a Chambermaid is a transitional film in the development of Renoir's lesser known stylistic system. Braudy would later distinguish Renoir's two systems as being tied to theater and realism respectively (although there have been compelling arguments about these categories being either reductive or simply misnomers). Goddard is the focus of the story (much in the same way Renoir later uses Magnani, Arnoul and Bergman). The camera tracks her action, her closeups are one-shot, there are alternating shot scales in single scenes to emphasize her character's psychological reaction to events, studio exteriors help idealize the framing of her screen personality and high/low angle shots purvey her psychological perspective on group dynamics. Celestine (Goddard) has an ambiguity to her motivation that heightens psychological identification. It is unclear as to whether she sees the world divided into classes or sexes, or both. The ending is a happy one, and the politics is further subverted through jovial and emotionally-charged highly-individualized characters. Non-diegetic soundtrack is employed to increase distinctions in the emotional responses of different characters. Depth of field is at the service of Celestine's staging while obstructions in the mise-en-scene become incorporated into the plot. In this respect, the camera is not an unobtrusive one. There is an inconsistency in the use of stylistics, where on one hand reframing pans are fully at the service of psychological identification and privilege of the transcendental subject position while the long take mobile framing of the July 14th celebration reminisce on M.Lange, Illusion and Regle. Diary is a melodrama with comedic elements to take the edges off, but when the master of the house reads in the morning paper "another woman murdered in Paris, another woman cut to pieces" there is no doubt that Renoir is infusing a consideration for the plight of women in a misogynist society. This was very important to him and perhaps the dark undertones of this film have something to say about the repression he experienced working in Hollywood for the war. How Burgess Meredith factors into all that remains to be seen.
This Land Is Mine (1943)
The Anatomy of a Mama's Boy...
He comes down the stairs to his mother's insistence, carries the cat, drinks up his milk as requested, wipes his pudgy mouth, is helped into his clothes while listening passively to his mother's diatribe of the latest gossip about town, is told to hurry up before being late for school and is kissed on the cheek and seen off. A perfect mama's boy sets up the definition for a born coward (ironic because Renoir claimed himself to be a coward). But there is a catch! The cat does not belong to "mummy". The pudgy school teacher fancies his neighbor in fact... but a love triangle will get in the way... and all with Nazi stormtroopers goose stepping through the romantic drama. How perfectly Hollywood... and totally inappropriate for Renoir (whose own romantic drama WW2 film made no direct reference to the Nazis whatsoever). The story lacks in subtlety... the 'united front' is saccharine and cheesy leaving an awful taste in the mouth. The stylistic system allowed for Renoir is no better - one-shot closeups, shot-reverse-shot suture systems, uncreative use of exteriors, tableau depth of field. The film won an Oscar for sound?!! Was it the annoying and unrealistic children's chorus as bombs drop on their heads? My niece cries when the dog barks. This Land is Mine purveys a warped sense of manifest destiny and has a real Stalinist Socialist Realist feel to it. Some will defend that a united front bound by hope and uplift was necessary at the time, but why the moral highfaluting? And why the insidious organization of its presentation? "Heroism is glamorous for children" gets an add-on later by Keller who claims "America is a charming cocktail of Irish and Jews. Spectacular but childish". The only grace that this film would have is if it tripped over its own shoelaces and fell flat on its face. Even Renoir must have recognized this as he implements a bit of directing that could not have been a mistake when in shot one of hands about to go in pockets is jump cut to shot 2 of hands firmly planted in pockets. The loss of continuity is reflective of Renoir's misplacement in the production. Or perhaps it was the producer's choice...a kind of Hollywood branding. There are a couple of exciting moments and good directing when a high angle shot frames urban rebellion in deep space which leads to traceur stunts in a parkour rooftop escape and later when said rebel executes his ultimate escape plan (reminds of Boudu). Like La Chienne, Albert (pudgy teacher) provides a speech to a courtroom. This resistance speech is a far cry from the realism of poison pen letters in Le Corbeau, but it is an understandable device for the occasion. If I were living in France in 1943 and knew of the film, I would hail This Land is Mine as wonderful support for the Allied war effort. I would be proud that it was directed by a fellow Frenchman and I would hope that it would bring France and America even closer on issues of liberty and the fight for freedom. Given that I was born in 1979, I simply expect either clever allusions and allegories or realistic blood and guts portrayals of the experience of war. Somehow the romantic drama genre placates the horrors of war in an obscene way (for this reviewer at least).
Swamp Water (1941)
Zanuck and his Blow-up Dolls
An ironic theme runs through this first American Renoir film - Fear Nature! Obviously, Zanuck and 20thC. Fox could have cared less about what Renoir had developed in his oeuvre up to that point. What mattered to them was that he had a reputation. Of course, in effect Zanuck could have found out Wayne Gretzky was a great athlete and so handed him a baseball bat requesting grand slam homeruns. Despite the troubles with the ignorant Hollywood producers, Renoir managed to direct a film and tell a story that is endearing and enduring. He also purveyed as much of his stylistic grace as was possible under the conditions (but it wasn't much). Great depth of field is utilized but conformed to a Hollywood brand of specularity - the gaze of the Other! Overall, Renoir has his hands tied as shot-reverse-shot systems, one-shot closeups, plan americain shot scales and decoupage classique continuity dominate. Even rear projection is used for the sky! When the camera isn't sneaking through the swamp representing the gaze of the other, the story is allowed to be told fluidly. Brutality versus chastity, God versus nature, redemption versus utilitarianism all have something strongly connected to Renoir's oeuvre. Brutality/Chastity in Swamp Water plays out at the bar and in Renoir's silent films like La Fille. God/Nature is continuously at play with Renoir especially in his inclusion of tropes like the river and the Pan character while in Swamp Water prayer can miraculously heal snake bites. Redemption/Utilitarianism was at the center of La Chienne, M. Lange, Bas Fonds and Marseillaise while in Swamp Water it is appropriated for familial relationships where one father uses his reputation to protect his kin and another father must redeem his reputation to do the same. Are these big ideas and themes dumbed-down then in Swamp Water? I believe that they are at the service of an audience that promotes film as escapist first and foremost. Therefore, the themes are played out with depth, but require some bushwhacking and personal exploration to access those deeper meanings. This film gets a lift from great acting (thank Renoir for that). Polyvocal systems from films like Illusion are replaced in Swamp by polytonal systems of Ben who speaks one way with the tom-girl (big papa), another with the blondie (suave romantic) and another with his father (whipping boy). This polytonal form contributes to added psychological identification. The rear projection was surely enjoyed by Zanuck while he was making love to his blow-up doll and munching on a Big Mac. The ascetic based answers provided for issues of freedom and justice are quaint for a contemporary viewer. Another inversion from Renoir's French work to Swamp Water is in its politics of justice where crime of necessity (M. Lange) is domesticated into crimes of opportunity while the revolutionary spirit of agitation disrupting order is status quoed into agitation ordering disruption. It might seem that this film is common, corny or campy... but Swamp Water somehow makes it out alive (like its characters from the swamps). For a North American viewer, the direction of Renoir leads to a fluid and clear telling of a story that has inherent appeal from the New World value system and is perhaps relayed better through the Frenchman than through a Hollywood director.
La Marseillaise (1938)
You do the hokey-pokey...and that's what it's all about
La Marseillaise depicts lesser known stories attached to the events in Versailles in 1789 which led to the downfall of the monarchy. Renoir continues with a consistent stylistic system - great depth of field, two-shot closeups, framing of crowds, mobile framing, polyvocal (accents). In fact, aristocrats and citizens receive the same treatment from the camera. The exception is with the King and Queen who receive one-shot closeups, however, this seems more in the service of a dialectic regarding the Brunswick Manifesto than it being about psychological identification. This story is symbolic and likely the symbolism and abstraction is what led to the film not being as popular as was expected. There is also a confusion for the spectator because of Renoir's humanist treatment. Bumpkins are charming, aristocrats are accepting and armies more or less fight together instead of against each other. Renoir often spoke out against violence in film and this might be another disappointment for audiences at the time. Most violence is dissuaded through crafty acts of oration. The brains over brawn theme certainly lacks something of the 'common touch'. The breaking down of the song into parceled quotations reminds of the French New Wave's often lyrical and intellectual modes of expression. There is a monarchist rhetoric that runs through the film regarding order versus anarchy... yet there is little example of anarchy but also no false reprisal by monarchists against citizens. The treatment of war is tepid, but it just goes to show that Renoir was never comfortable representing hardened political positions.
La bête humaine (1938)
Hereditary flaw... paying the price... suffering... committing acts beyond one's control... reasons locked deep inside. These Zolaist sentiments and characterizations ironically put the story of La Bete Humaine beyond the poetic realist genre. This film never rises to the surface of atmosphere. Image and sound are emotionally charged from the opening scene. Hi-key lighting and soft focus cinematography on closeups create psychological identification and promote the act of gazing. The camera is often stationary and actions moves past it. Closeups are often one-shots. Renoir utilizes a firmly constructed shot-reverse-shot system. There is deep depth of field in staging but not focus. The planes usually are staged with a mix of people and animals or object (horse, train) lending more power to the psychological identifications that run throughout the film. This form of layering creates elusive effects and provided a difficulty in access and privilege (a theme that perfectly describes the psychological paralysis of Jacques). "Feeling like a mad dog" and "haze fills my head" is rhetoric lending to concepts of mental illness sooner than excuses of hereditary responsibility. The mental illness transcends the social classes (like in Bas Fonds) as the wealthy husband commits heinous premeditated acts. "It was an accident for us" becomes the credo of the characters in the film and ties quite nicely to Renoir's own philosophy of the cork in the stream. Certain avant-garde techniques creep up (the rain bucket ellipsis). The only significant use of Renoir's famous stylistic system is at the end where great depth of field and mobile framing help construct a space similar to how it was accomplished at the end of M. Lange. The supersped up rear projection (or "side projection" in the end scene is the most dramatic visual in the film and in film more generally. The themes of immobility and isolation play perfectly when juxtaposed with the high-paced locomotion. Renoir comments "the locomotive was one of the most important characters" and unfortunately tips his hand about believing that his work does not venture into the realm of the psychological. La Bete Humaine should hopefully soon be considered Renoir's greatest film, but it first requires an understanding of the evolution and development of two stylistic systems of his. This will likely lead to his later work being more revered than it is today.
Les bas-fonds (1936)
If you could do it all again...
Les Bas Fonds carries some weight in the fidelity department - the production was done through the Russian emigres' Albatros Film company while Gorky personally approved Renoir's script. That being said, most academics note Renoir's film to have a significantly less gloomy atmosphere, characterization and mode of expression overall than the novel. The opening shot is a tongue-in-cheek construction through pov mobile reframing. The identification of spectator with higher authority (the Count) is a method of placating the politics that would naturally arise when juxtaposing the milieu of the flophouse. Clearly, Renoir had an intention to take the edge off from the get-go. The long take and mobile framing is employed in the opening scenes (following the drunken young accordion player, also at the restaurant). A great depth of field frames social groupings and profiles multiple characters at once. Renoir attempts to fully establish his more famous stylistic system as dominant, however, some psychology creeps in on him (he'd be horrified to hear it I'm sure). Both Gabin's Pepel and Jouvet's Baron get one-on-one treatment from the camera. Pepel walks through an alleyway with shallow depth of field and later provides a police confession basked in hi-key lighting setup, while le Baron stands in one-shot closeup to contemplate the possible error of his ways at the casino. One starts to wonder whether Renoir was ever truly political given his portrayals of social classes always retain some element of genial acceptance. Gabin's Pepel was "raised with certain manners" while Jouvet's Baron distinguishes kindness through small gestures. Clearly not all bourgeois are up-tight "ham-grovelers" while not all working class are dangerous or rowdy. Then again, exploiting the stereotypes can be amusing (which Renoir does as well). There are some rare edits in Fonds, where Renoir employs vertical wipes (as if it represented flipping the pages of a book) and lends to a more psychological identification. The themes of "putting on airs" and "shedding upbringing" are played out through Pepel and le Baron, however they would certainly evoke a powerful unconscious psychological identification with spectators. This effect is reinforced through the blindfolded children's game and the concept that we are blind to the games we play and the lies we tell ourselves and others. The story plays off of the ancient Greek aphorism "Know Thyself". The baron explains that he has "fog in the brain" and it is a confession about a universal human nature. The ritualistic murder mirrors M. Lange but the collective is certainly a different 'animal' in Fonds with different aims and alms. Some have felt that Fonds fits into the category of 'poetic realism'. Pepel's rage, the gloomy mood, foggy nights, tight spots, criminal activities, working class milieu have all the makings of a Carne-Prevert entry to the subgenre. However, Gabin's apple scene with the baby provides far too much uplift as does the solidarity of the collective. The characters of Renoir's Fonds are inherently invested in their world unlike a film like Le Quai des Brumes. Consider the difference between the painter in Le Quai and Le Vigan's actor in Fonds. Le Vigan's character considers suicide a new beginning whereas the painter hopes not only to reach an end, but to erase everything that has already happened. If the actor could do it all again he would repeat himself like an actor does with their lines, whereas the painter would change everything. It is films like Les Bas Fonds that helped build Renoir's reputation as a 'humanist'... and with good reason because he cared deeply about the reciprocity of respect and the autonomy of creativity.
La grande illusion (1937)
You Can't Mass-Market Cynicism...
Most hail La Grande Illusion for its overt commentary on class politics and depiction of horizontal/vertical boundaries. The film also has its subtleties - De Boeldieu knows the downsides of both aviation uniforms which is a keen distinction on his part and one that defines bourgeois upbringing. Some would identify such distinguishing as snobbery while it must also be considered as an element of intelligence and foresight. English as a mediator language is another element of foresight as it did prove to become the international language, for all intents and purposes. What is the 'Grand Illusion' then? Is it that to conduct war with rules beguiles the essence of rank inherent to those rules? Is it that the rhetoric of fraternity ignores other roles in the genealogy of social organization? These suppositions would imply a hard Left position within the film. However, the film's direct reference to a grand illusion is that the war would soon end. Renoir posits thus that war is an eternal process because of a dishonesty between internal and external truths. This is best exemplified through the theatre prep scene where the 'awkward' silence hints at something being said internally that would never be admitted to externally. And so the illusion is imagination itself... we are always exercising it but only within a bordered construct of the psyche. Imagination has an infinitely expansive quality but remains 'stuck' within the fixed borders of what is consciously understood (known, accepted, denied and disavowed). De Boeldieu's "What's fair in a war" echoes the greater truth of "what's fair in life". Illusion is a consistent film stylistically - great depth of field, long tracking shots, group dynamics, polyvocal dialogue superseding shot-reverse-shot construction, mobile framing, the long shot. When Gabin's Marechal is put in solitary, there is no significant closeup treatment and no attempt to draw out psychological response or evoke emotions in the spectator - despair of the individual is not entertained by the apparatus. Illusion is a powerful film which highlights that sooner than Renoir being a humanist and ambiguous politically, he is ambiguously humanist and thoroughly apolitical.
Partie de campagne (1936)
Time keeps on slipping into the Future...
Partie de Campagne is an enigma within Renoir's oeuvre. Many feel that it is his greatest film, partly due to a nostalgia created by its painterly Impressionist qualities and partly because of its active Potential through being a non-feature length film. The film text responds to its conditions of being quite well as the main theme posits consideration for temporality and the effects of passages of time on the lives of human beings. Partie is a pure film text and Renoir's stylistics adapt in kind. There is a group dynamic that provides natural spacing and independence while retaining linkages throughout. A great depth of field (especially through doorways and windows) provides vantage for spectators without implying transcendental subject positions. Character portrayals are genial (the Parisians are quite naive, but they genuinely praise Provincial life). Renoir makes his closeups two-shots. The camera is not very mobile and very few long takes combine to create ambiguity when juxtaposed with the shot-reverse-shot. This is perhaps the only disappointment (other than the end events of the story of course!). The swing shots remind of Fabri's Korhinta and is one of the visual and emotional highlights of the film. A beautiful montage introduces the storm that will provide the most gentle and endearing of climaxes. The storm is a bridge for the idyllic of the imagination and the complex of the real and where the river running under the bridge is itself allegorical for the experience of life.
Madame Bovary (1934)
Peas in a Pod: Emma and Dedee
Although the opening shot makes good use of mobile framing, most of the film has a more tableau feel. The sweeping pans are more tied to character psychology based on their habit of reframing and thus constructing psychological space. Angular shots (convo with clergy, faint outside window) further a sense of transcendental subject positions arranged for identification with character psychological effects. The exteriors are picturesque and painterly especially through naturalist oblique staging. There is a great depth of field and camera positions are arranged with obstructions in the mise-en-scene lending to the sense of an unobtrusive apparatus. The alternating shot scales within a scene are traditional and like Carrefour one gets a sense that this Renoir film is a hybrid of stylistic systems. Problems are compounded in this regard not simply through the film being an adaptation of Flaubert's work but also through Emma's character being so close in characterization to what we know of Dedee (Catherine Hessling). I imagine that Renoir was torn during the production of Madame Bovary. On one hand he may have felt that expressing his personal life through an adaptation that was conducive for such sentiment had a cathartic effect while on the other hand he was marring the development of his stylistics and not adequately purveying an even approach to character portrayal. The effect is that the spectator is neither fully engaged nor fully bored - creating an awkward wishy-washy response. This is not Renoir's most profound film.
La nuit du carrefour (1932)
Elucidation through the Fog...
Carrefour has been considered a precursor to film noir and it can be agreed that the film is all about atmosphere. Renoir uses long sweeping pans to explore the space. There is a consciousness with regards to constructing depth in the mise-en-scene. Interestingly groups of characters are organized and move around in this film slightly differently from Grande Illusion or Regle, and is more similar to Cordelier. If theses differences can be connected to two overall stylistics systems for Renoir's work, with one being more focused on psychology (I realize Renoir spoke vehemently against it), then perhaps Carrefour can be understood as a bit of a hybrid between Renoir's two dominant stylistic systems. In Carrefour, ample closeups and angular shots support this claim while a lack of mobile framing (on interiors certainly) goes further to promote this thesis. Closeups on particular objects (cigarette pack) are ambiguously pov and hint at a transcendental position (not typical of Renoir) and is perhaps explainable through the film being an adaptation of a Simenon book. Again, Renoir finds novel uses for synch sound with alternating sound design and sound used through a sense of privilege. The settings are beautiful and the nighttime scenes become eerie and displaced (the displacement is all the more provocative when piecing together a film that is missing a reel). There is a Renoirian dilemma at play in this Simenon story and Renoir's use of polyvocal systems (Illusion, Carosse) underscore it. Carrefour is not unobtrusively political in its presentation of foreigners (Danes) being blamed for the murder of a Jew. A theme of separation and disconnect permeates those 'reasons' that people have for doing what they do. Pierre Renoir as Maigret performs perfecting in navigating the layers of the drama with subtle intent and sharpened will. The employment of great depth of field (lattice of door frame, staircase through doorway) plays more on this psychological disconnect of motives for action than it does for constructing space unobtrusively. That is to say, the direction is willful and therefore driven by auteur psychology and defined by construction of transcendental subject positions. Convergence is a force that surges forward to counter the themes of separation and disconnect. Class structure comes colliding into a single plane (and for this reviewer) reveals more about what holds everyone together in unity as opposed to toying with issues of servitude/mastery. Eventually, the pace slows and the atmosphere dominates. The foggy night and dim light provide a nice juxtaposition to the possibility of elucidation on the plot of the film. Some have commented that Night at the Crossroads is impossible to make sense of (without the full working print), but perhaps even with a complete print it would defy any logical and straightforward readings.
The Croods (2013)
You Had Me At Tomorrow...
The Croods opens with voice-over narration that introduces the Crood family. The animated sequence is minimalist and emulates cave drawings (a theme running through the film) while it also felt like an homage to Dusan Vukotic, The Zagreb School and other 'reduction' animators of the 1950s and 60s. The story has a monomyth structure that integrates family roles in at the critical spots (future husband as herald, villain as co-paternal figure, etc.). The first scenes have a specular quality and with a minimalist mise-en-scene it might have been regarded that these directorial choices were purely exploitative to the 3-D gimmick. Good fun action establishes the quirks of a 'pre-nuclear' family experiencing 'cave-in fever'. Father Crood (voiced by Cage) has all the qualities and clichés of a responsible father. In fact, the characters and the story are quite cliché - but it isn't exploitative. Freshness is retained through moments of self-reflexivity (the popcorn pile, Guignol shows) and clever situational puns. The minimalist elements of the staging and mise-en-scene are banished like darkness in light once the family are forced to venture out into the more majestic parts of a fantasy world. It is a fantasy world - with dozens of original creatures and hybrids that make one think of Disney's Alice in Wonderland. Some of these creatures provide strong character 'support' such as 'Belt' and 'Duggie'. Even 'villains' are appropriated as pets in this dangerous and threatening but awe-inspiring and enlightening world. The threats are ominous but not frightening. The Croods are cute animated characters and the animation itself is of top quality and exemplar of technical sheen (the luscious fur was the most enticing and tantalizingly tactile lure in the 3-D quality of the film). The cave-family is physically atavistic in appearance, but jovial and comically gentle in demeanor. The diastema creates warm smiles and helps forge loving moments. The ending is a happy one and there is no Bambi trauma moment in the entire film. One of the advantages of digital rendering is the open possibilities that lie outside the more rigid film medium (the 180 flip dive into the water is mesmerizing). There are great moral lessons about growth and acceptance that are convivial and not preachy. My favorite part of the film is a sequence where Father Crood makes his first effort at personal growth by adorning himself in 'modern' innovations like the 'Pre-Funk' George Clinton coif. His ideas backfire into a laugh-out-loud homage to Looney Tunes mayhem. One other homage stood out in the genial portrayal of a quest for paradise - that is Wil Vinton's Adventures of Mark Twain and the Adam and Eve story that Vinton retells within that film. You can't tell me there aren't Biblical allusions either - with the Noah's Ark moments at the end, paradise lost theme and Adam-Eve procreation imperative underlying a more overt father-daughter relationship of trust, growth and acceptance. The relationship of minimalism and magnitude play well for a sophisticated viewer while the genial takes on humanism and family entertain universally.
Le bled (1929)
First... and Last...
The opening shot is a shortened sweeping pan of an Algerian landscape begging questions of producer intrigues in the cutting-room. A montage of traditional Algerian activities juxtaposed with shots of ancient ruins. The montage continues with shots of the machines of industry and agriculture. A shot of a steam engine provides a self-reflexive nod to the audience embarking on this travelogue introduction. The opening is pseudo-documentary, quasi-ethnographic. No snide portrayals of "primitive" culture (expected from Renoir). That being said, the juxtaposition of shots tend to evoke sentiment and curiosity (imagination, if you will and atypical of Renoir's ethos on interior-exterior truths). I would characterize Le Bled (from my own research) as transitional within the evolution of his lesser known stylistic system. Low angle shots provoke psychological associations for audience identification while one-shot closeups obliquely framed further psychological effects while adding a painterly quality. Renoir also provides some development within his famous stylistic system. For example, great depth of field at the docks juxtapose staged actors in the foreground with non-actors milling about in the background - the effect is dramatic, especially within Renoir's oeuvre. Unobtrusive camera-work has novel use through positioning with obstructions in the mise-en-scene... naturally arranged to habitually eclipse views of other background objects with seemingly greater human utility (cars and houses). Renoir poses a pointed question about the inherent value and utility of nature to forming humanity's own will. Prophecy in the scenario as old army buddies reacquaint after a random run-in (Renoir would have a similar encounter during the filming of Toni, later inspiring the scenario for Grand Illusion). Good staging/blocking of actors keeps the narrative pace fluid and progresses plot without having to resort to intertitles. However, this directorial choice has Renoir again furthering a psychological identification through promoting a sense of 'photogenie' - rendering the text impressionist in more ways than one. The film, accused of predictability and banality, seemingly has subtly complex characters. A young man lovestruck then quickly affirms not needing to rush into marriage and proceeds to focus on his own inner development through toil. Some propaganda though as the film was commissioned as a centenary celebration of colonization in Algeria. A rich uncle left a significant inheritance for his niece - a fortune gained from 'nobly' tilling the land and utilizing the strong Algerian agricultural foundation to build a stable infrastructure. Despite controversial politics, it is the direction that is most interesting in this film. Renoir, is always ahead of his time (mainly due to making repetition of production practices anathema)... La Fille's collision montage sequence (admittedly influenced by Abel Gance), Carrefour's establishing the qualities of film noir prior to its application in Hollywood, Toni as exemplary of neo-realism prior to its canon in Italy, the great depth of field in films like Regle preceding Welles's Kane and Renoir had already shifted to a critically self-reflexive 'counter cinema' approach to the Tradition of Quality before Godard and Truffaut had established it themselves in features. Le Bled perhaps presents nothing new per se but Renoir's combination of technique and atmosphere is novel and elusive. Renoir's empowering the female voice is brought forth in Bled as the niece states to her hapless courter "You have no get-up-and-go. If only I were a man". This sentiment fits Renoir's oeuvre, where representing women under an ethos of egalitarianism is paramount. The mobile framing present is at the service of tracking character movement and not constructing space. It is hard to accept Renoir's denial of being influenced by the medium's ability to represent psychology in light of a provocative sequence where a mysterious battalion of the French Army arrives on the shores. However, the 'spirit' of France is not brought into question in the Gancian sense and the 'J'accuse' moment is appropriated/bastardized as a 'J'accepte' moment (this bastardizing of Zola-Gance for propagandistic ends surely irked Renoir in this commissioned film). The sequence's superimposed soldiers marching (dissolve) into tractor riding farmers in a cavalcade sweeping across the cliffs into the horizon is haunting. Reverie of France's ability to grow and progress will be tiresome for some spectators (it reminds of Stalinist SR Stakhanovite-themed films) but nevertheless the direction and visuals are immaculate (despite the historicist semantics at play). The farmer-soldiers vanish into "thin" air through superimposed dissolves. The intertitle "J'accepte" teaches nephew that Algeria is worth the effort to cultivate - it is French land! I am sure Renoir was relieved when sound came in (with his next film). The sentimental portrayals in this commission are a far cry from more subtle psychology employed for characterization once Renoir had greater control of his projects. 'Easter-egg-hunt' reveals the Pan flautist (motif) sitting merrily watching and being watched. Le Bled is three acts with the second dragging and not fusing the story into a unity. The story would have more strength if it focused wholeheartedly on Claudie (the inheritor). Her choice of suitor (one accused of "pussying out" all the time and the other acquiring a 'feeling' for the rich history of the land) is of most interest (recalls Fabri's Korhinta for this reviewer). Claudie's feisty verve infuses scenes with energy and interest. Some accused Le Bled (reductively) of being nothing more than a propaganda piece - I disagree. Bled raises some serious moral and socio-political questions ( the gazelle hunt scene frames these questions nicely). A long take centralizes a murdered baby gazelle in the frame while fallen French girl is at the edge of the frame. This scene reminds of the concepts of brutality that Aime Cesaire raised in his polemical-poetic charges against (post-)colonization of the Third World. The film ends with an exciting action sequence and seemingly tragic end. The end chase drags somewhat following the climax but when the falcons are let loose, an element of panoramic continuity is unleashed that reengages the spectator. This film has a heartfelt ending, in this reviewer's opinion. Some of the performances are a little too theatrical, but not overwhelmingly so. Highly Recommended for Renoirites.